Thursday, August 12, 2004

We gave my son his first hair cut when he was 18 months old. I took him to the Russian barber and sat him up on the wooden plank the barber uses to make small kids seem taller. He didn't squirm. We took some pictures. Afterwards, the barber gave him lollipop, and that was it.

When my neighbor, MM the Lubovitcher, celebrated his own son's first haircut he hired a band, and a balloon magician, and a caterer. The rabbi spoke. The decorations were extravagant. The boy's hair was not cut by a hired stranger, but by the assembled guests. MM, and then his father, made the first snips; afterwards other guests were offered the scissors (and some vodka. This, after all, was a Lubovitch celebration. At the end of the afternoon a professional barber was called in to repair the mess we, vodka-sipping hair stylists, wrought on the poor boy's hair.)

Why did MM deploy all the resources at his disposal for the sake of his son's first haircut? Because MM keeps the custom of upshurin. Why did I take my son to the Russian down the block, and celebrate with a lollipop? Because I do not.

Are you surprised? Have you suddenly begun to doubt baynonim's fidelity to Judaism? Don't feel bad. Many people assume that upshurin is an hoary old custom observed by all Orthodox Jews, the world over. It isn't, though I come face-to-face with this mistake all the time. (I sure could use a word for it, too. See the first baynonim contest.)

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